VICTOR
by
Daniel John


I stood in the gray rain in front of the newspaper machines. One of the Seattle papers was better than the other, but I had forgotten which. I finally picked one, dropped my quarters in, pulled out the paper—“You know where you belong,” a deep male voice said from right behind me. I knew better than to turn around. I threw the paper in the trash and raced up the stairs to the maternity ward. I arrived just in time to see the doctor roll the IV station, rattling and clanking, over to Deborah. She was pale, miserable, and nine-and-a-half months pregnant. Her belly was impossibly large.

“It's time,” she'd said earlier that day in the dimness before dawn, then leaned over the edge of the bed and vomited on the floor. I quickly cleaned it up. She rolled slowly and heavily onto her feet. “Be sure to call Victor.”

“Who's Victor?” I'd never known a Victor.

“Who's Victor?” she asked, as though I knew. I looked at her, mystified. “I don't know any Victor!” she said, irritated that I kept bringing it up. I tactfully turned away. In silence we got ready to go to the hospital for the birth of our third child, Lilith Mariah Pele.

I'd always had extended conversations with my babies when they were in the womb, but talking to Lilith was a torrent of delight. She was soft as a warm breeze, endless as ocean and formless as fire. And as talkative as a rivulet; she kept me up with her sparkling chatter. I couldn't imagine how something that female could survive penned up inside the matter-of-fact hardness of flesh. For Lilith, being born would be like being buried alive. I hadn't told Deborah I expected a stillbirth.

“We have to chemically induce labor,” the doctor was telling Deborah when I burst in to the room without a newspaper. After eight hours of labor the contractions had come farther and farther apart, then ceased. “The fetal heart is showing signs of stress,” she said, grimly. “It needs to come out, now.” The doctor had been worried ever since Deborah checked in to the hospital with a fever and dehydration. That meant she had an infection, one that was moving dangerously fast since she'd felt fine the night before.

“No drugs,” Deborah said sourly.

The doctor looked at me, then left us alone. I had a little talk with Deborah about Mother Nature and the Law of Birth: either the baby comes out or both die. She listened to my spiritual rationalizations with a pissed-off look on her face, then said, “Okay. I'll take the drug in an hour if labor doesn't start up by itself. Okay?”

“Now.”

“Half an hour.”

“Ten minutes.”

“Fifteen.”

“Fine,” I said. “Fifteen.”

Tense time inched by. On the fifteen-minute mark the doctor pulled the clanking IV over to her bed— good hard contractions started up and pumped rhythmically away.

“Works every time,” the doctor said quietly.

A few hours later the head began to crown. Danger entered the room. An essence of female so formless it could not exist on this level of reality was within seconds of emerging into form. Something would have to break. Intuition stepped in like a Chinese warlord and asked me for a commitment. I made it without thought or argument: If anything broke it would be me.

I bent over Deborah's great belly, put one hand behind her shoulders and with the other hand lifted up her leg. I gently crunched her belly to her knees in time with her beet-red-faced bearing-down. The intensity and the danger increased with every pushing contraction. It felt like I had recklessly committed my body and my life to function as a bridge between Lilith and the breathable air—the head slipped out—a blast of foulness ruptured the air. The room filled with the stink of pestilence. I breathed through my mouth so I wouldn't retch. The baby's head was covered with pus. The doctor wiped the head then wiggled and pulled and twisted the tiny body so forcefully I was scared she'd break that little body. Lilith's shoulders slipped out—a shock zapped the palm of each of my hands, raced up each arm and met inside my heart with a electric flash—the baby slithered out plop! into the doctor's hands and screamed in mortal terror.

Lilith hung upside down by the heels. Her penis and balls dangled down like trophies, lurid purple, grotesquely enlarged from the hormones of late pregnancy. Lilith was a boy. The room slid slantways dizzy—I gripped my guts, forced breath. I will deal with this later I will deal with this later I will deal with this later. I moved like a robot, but I didn't faint.

A 3-person neonatal team appeared out of nowhere and moved in like astronauts on a mission. Fluids were tested faster than I could tell they were being extracted. The baby surpassed all measurements for health, and Deborah's temperature dropped to normal minutes after birth. The placenta, smothered in noisome slime, was disposed of with extreme caution in a BIOHAZARD container.

After everything had been checked and rechecked several times, the doctor sat down with me and Deborah. “You didn't have relations within the last few days, correct?” She'd asked us that twice already. We assured her again that we hadn't had sex for two weeks. “Then the infection must have started spontaneously shortly before labor began. There's no medical explanation for that, since there was no penetration of the womb. So how did it get in there? Not only that, in the last 8 hours Deborah's absorbed a phenomenal 10 liters of fluid. I can't explain instant dehydration of that severity. And finally, the infection that could have been fatal to mother and fetus vanished at birth. Only the placenta was infected. There's no medical explanation for that, either.”

The doctor stared at us for a minute. “Well, I'm just glad mother and baby are healthy,” she said, then left.

I had an explanation, although it wasn't medical: Something too female to be born had found a way.

We called him Victor. We had no other name.